School uniforms are traditionally part of the parochial or private learning processes in the United States, but public schools are starting to adopt this practice in greater numbers as well. During the 2015-2016 school year, over 20% of schools required students to wear a uniform. That means in less than a decade, the desire to follow a strict dress code like this went from 1 in 8 U.S. public schools to 1 in 5.
Those who support the idea of having students wearing school uniforms every day say that it is a way for the community to encourage safer schools. Even if some of the advantages are never experienced, this one policy can set the stage for better grades, improved social contacts, and a willingness to go to school for teens and adolescents.
Critics of a school uniform policy say that the issue with this idea is that it can infringe about the right of a student to express themselves through fashion. Kids lose a sense of identity with this requirement, so there is no positive effect on their behavior or desire to pursue academic achievements. In some ways, it can even highlight the economic disparities that these policies so often try to hide.
Should students be required to wear a school uniform? Are there tangible benefits to consider with such a policy, or does it set up another power-and-control mechanism between kids and adults?
List of the Advantages of School Uniforms
1. School uniforms reduce the barriers that exist between students in the classroom.
There are several different social and economic situations that exist in each community. A public school (and even some private ones) encounter students from all sectors of the community. By establishing a school uniform policy, it becomes possible to equalize the learning situation because there are fewer visual differences.
When school uniforms are not required, then it can be quite easy to spot the children who have either most or least amount of economic advantages in their community. This advantage makes it possible to reduce the visual stimuli that can encourage cliques to form, allowing for more social mixing along economic lines than might be possible others.
2. The presence of school uniforms can increase student focus.
When there are fewer brands, flashy colors, or style choices available in the learning environment, then there the number of potential distractions decreases in the classroom. Children can focus more on their learning than the new shoes that their friends are bringing to school. There is a disciplined approach that comes with this advantage that can translate to how information is retained by the student.
Your mental energy is dedicated to the fun at recess time, the lessons learned in the classroom, and the personality similarities or differences that are part of a diverse community. That can translate into higher grades for some students. The test scores of elementary girls increases by three percentile points when uniforms are introduced to their learning environment.
3. it can be cheaper for parents to purchase school uniforms.
According to information published by Speak Out the average cost for a school uniform is $104 in the United States. Exact uniforms can differ dramatically, with some schools expecting a jacket, while others prefer a specific shirt, slacks or dress, and a color that matches the expectations of the policy. That cost can be as high as $200 in some districts.
If you compare that expense to a general uniform of standardized clothing, you can save almost 50% on the final cost. It all depends on what clothes you prefer to purchase for your students and where you shop for your items. Most schools that require a uniform will also have a hand-me-down event were new outfits are available for free.
4. School uniforms can promote a sense of safety while on campus.
There are many parts of the United States where the students may be involved directly or indirectly with gang activity in the neighborhood. Issuing uniforms can help to avoid confrontations in the classroom where there may be intentional or inadvertent declarations of affiliation that could increase violence. This advantage can extend outside of the classroom as well when students make their way to school or home because there are fewer issues with visual miscommunication that occur.
When you can have confidence in knowing that your clothing choices are not going to make you a target, then it becomes a lot easier to focus on the learning environment.
5. There are fewer school shootings when a uniform is a requirement.
Research indicates that schools in the United States experience a 12% drop in firearm-related incidents when a uniform policy is in place. There are 15% fewer drug-related incidents with this advantage as well. Some schools have seen impressive gains in these areas as well. In just one year after an incident at the Sparks Middle School outside of Reno, NV, a uniform policy showed a 63% drop in police log reports with fewer issues with graffitiing, property damage, student fights and gang activities.
When Long Beach, CA, implemented a mandatory school uniform policy, in just two years, sex offenses dropped by 74%, robbery declined by 65%, and weapons possession incidents decreased by 52%.
6. School uniform policies are easier to enforce than a standard dress code.
Although there are some costs to consider with the implementation of a school uniform policy, most school districts find that it is easier to spot violations with one in place than it is to enforce a standard dress code. Many administrators find that their time in discipline involves issues with what students wear more often than not.
When you have a school uniform policy in place, then you don’t need to worry about pants being too baggy, too long, or shorts being too short. There aren’t issues with the width of a tank top strap or components of underwear showing. Kids spend more time in the office because they aren’t fulfilling a standard dress code, which also creates barriers to the overall learning process.
7. It reduces the amount of time needed to get ready in the morning.
90% of school administrators say that one of the primary advantages of having school uniforms is that it eliminates the battle between kids and parents at home over what is an appropriate outfit to wear during the day. This advantage does allow students to know what their wardrobe will be during every day attending school. Some parents agree that it is helpful since you always know what clothes you’ll need to find for the next day.
If students come home from school and immediately change out of their uniform, then it can create a laundry burden for families – especially if there are several children in the household. Instead of washing 7 days of clothes, you’re effectively washing 12 days unless you can find ways to manage this situation.
8. School uniforms do not impact the right of free speech for students.
Free speech does not relate to the regulations of clothing type or the length of a skirt. Fashion is not considered to be the purse speech in the United States that the Constitution guarantees. Although this advantage may go away if a school board implements the policy in retaliation to student conduct, there is a right to implement a mandatory policy if the desire is to improve safety, raise grades, or improve discipline. Students can still express their point of view, even if there is no opt-out provision, through other means than fashion.
9. Students who wear uniforms receive a better community perception.
In a 1994 study that looked at how adults and educational professionals perceived students, the teens and adolescents who wore a school uniform were perceived to be more academically proficient than their counterparts who followed typical fashion rules. Even peers thought of each other as being “smarter” when they saw each other wearing the same clothing items. Because of this advantage, higher test scores become possible because there are fewer unintentional bias issues that can get in the way of learning.
10. Schools can allow for variations that still permit expression through fashion.
Although strict school uniform policies can restrict the ways that student express themselves, it is more of a myth than a reality for most teens and adolescents that they cannot be fashionable with such a policy. Most districts allow accessories to be worn with a uniform, allowing kids to show off their personality in meaningful ways. Some schools permit different color variations of their uniform.
You can also use jewelry, buttons, nail polish, scarves, or satchels to improve the standard setup that a school district requires. According to research published by Andrea Dashiell, 54% of eighth graders said that they still felt like they could express themselves in important ways even though they were being asked to follow a school uniform policy.
List of the Disadvantages of School Uniforms
1. School uniforms are not always priced competitively with other dress code options.
The school districts that see the most success in compliance with their parents are the ones that choose a specific shirt style, a color, and khaki pants because there is greater availability of these items. When a school requires parents to special-order items that may include a logo, embroidery, blazers, specific socks, and even dress shoes, it can be an expense that a family may be unable to afford.
The average cost of a school uniform might be a little over $100, but specialty requirements can push that cost above $600 per unit. Even if you only use three outfits instead of five, that could be $1,600 (you don’t need to purchase three pairs of shoes usually) that you’re out before the school year even starts.
2. The requirement to wear a school uniform limits self-expression opportunities.
All kids, but especially teens, tend to have a better social experience outside of the home when they are able to express themselves through fashion. Requiring them to wear school uniforms can place a severe limitation on their ability to do so. Most kids express their emotions through what they wear, the art they pursue, and even their piercings or a haircut. It is a coping mechanism which helps them to manage the difficulties they face when going to school in the first place.
When a district removes one of the few areas where there are some elements of personal control, then it can create fewer learning opportunities for each person. The Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that students and teachers have the right to free speech while at school, while the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1970 that compelled conformity to a conventional standard of appearance does not appear to be a justifiable component of educational processes.
3. Kids always know who is wealthy and who is not even with school uniforms.
Even if all of the students dress in the same way each day by using the same brand of apparel for their school uniforms, everyone already knows that they belong to a specific social and economic class. Kids form cliques based on the information that obtain directly or hear from others anyway. The issues that teens face in public schools still exists in a private setting. It can even be an issue that leads to bullying in some situations since a poor socioeconomic status might be seen as a learning limitation or an opportunity to exclude.
Teens and adolescents who come from poverty will wear faded or torn uniforms instead of new ones. Some kids go to school in poorly-fitted items because their parents can’t afford something new. It only takes 8 weeks for the socioeconomic differences to show up after the school year starts.
4. There can be sexist elements of some student uniforms.
It is not unusual for school uniforms to dictate that boys should wear slacks and girls should wear dresses. There can be an objection to these stipulations by some students and their parents, which can lead to conflicts with the school administration. Some women may resent being told by someone else, especially a white male, that they can only wear garments which are traditionally seen as being feminine. Boys fall into this category as well, especially if they come from a home culture that includes forging, Scottish, or Irish influences.
When a student is uncertain of their place on the gender spectrum, these school uniform policies can become exceptionally problematic. It limits their way of experimenting with different forms of personal presentation, which can stop their growth and development because their identity is limited to the items they’re required to wear.
5. It can lead to more student inspections and policing of the uniform policies.
When a school decides that a uniform policy is what they want to implement with the student body, then the administrative staff attempt to enforce those rules by monitoring what the teens and adolescents choose to wear. There are consequences for violating the uniform requirements, which adds more attention to what a student chooses to wear instead of less. Kids will feel like they are under constant scrutiny.
That’s not to say that administrators should allow students to wear items that are offensive or revealing, but this disadvantage could have an adverse impact on the self-esteem of some kids or their attitude toward the school.
6. School uniforms can lead to missed educational opportunities.
If a student gets sent home because they have a uniform violation, then they are missing a valuable learning lesson during the day. There are missed opportunities for teaching because of enforcement policies as well since teachers, staffers, and other administrators must use some of their time to police the student body to ensure everyone is in compliance. If parents must come to pick up their child because of a violation, it might cost them vacation or sick time – or even lost pay.
7. Some of the data that supports school uniforms may be flawed.
When the information from Long Beach, CA, is quoted in statistics, there is a general failure to include all of the reforms that the district implemented to improve the learning environment. During the early 1990s, crime levels were at an all-time high across the country. Juvenile crime peaked in 1996 at 7,500 per 100,000 people, but it was in that range for the four years before that too.
The school implemented new security measures when they required students to wear uniforms. Over $1 million was spent to add alternative teaching strategies to the district curriculum. These additional strategies may have contributed as much, if not more, to the improvements that everyone saw.
8. School uniform policies tend to target minority population groups.
School districts in the United States that have a 50% or higher minority student population (defined as non-Caucasian students) are four times more likely to implement a uniform policy compared to a facility which has a minority population that is in the 20% to 49% range. They are 24 times more likely than a school with minorities students in the 5% to 19% range to implement a uniform policy as well.
The reality of the U.S. public education system is that most of the districts or schools that implement uniform policies are in the poor neighborhoods. This disadvantage only further emphasizes the class distinctions that many want to eliminate. About 47% of high-poverty public schools require uniforms, but only 6% of low-poverty ones have a similar policy.
9. Students hate them.
Adults are in a position to make decisions for children because they typically have more experience and wisdom to offer to the situation. The problem with school uniforms is that most kids hate them, the parents aren’t usually big fans of them, and no one from the district listens to their protests, complaints, or observations. A study from the University of Nevada-Reno found that 90% of middle school students in public schools did not like wearing uniforms. 825 of current students at a high school in South Bend, IN, oppose wearing them too – and the school has seen a 43% decline in enrollment since implementing their policy.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of School Uniforms
If your back-to-school shopping errands involve school uniforms, then these key points will seem familiar. There are families who support this concept just as strongly as there are ones that fight against it. With dress code policies adopting this option more often across the United States, the time is now to begin figuring out where you might stand on this subject.
It may be helpful to know what you’re going to wear every day when at school, but it can also act as a preventative device against self-expression.
The advantages and disadvantages of school uniforms might deter crime or increase safety, but they can also promote conformity over individuality, which is a critical attribute to gang recruitment. It may offer a playing field that appears to be more level, but the outcomes can be very different once a student walks through the doors of their learning institution.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.